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Blooms and Booze

Joe’s Wines & Liquor doubles as a rescue operation for orchids.

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Some customers at Joe's Wines & Liquor call owner Brad Larson "Joe," assuming he's the namesake of the establishment. But a few know Larson by another moniker — the Orchid Man.

Larson, who has owned the liquor store at 1681 Poplar for 12 years, said the nickname came from helping more than 100 people bring dormant orchids back to life.

One day about four years ago, after noticing Larson's orchids on store shelves, a customer came in to ask him if he could help bring a dying orchid back to life. Since then, Larson estimates that he gets at least one person per week who comes in with an orchid that's gone dormant or with a question about the plant.

"I'll get people who call on the phone and ask, 'Is the Orchid Man there?'" Larson said. "A lot of them don't want the plant anymore after it's dormant because it's not the most attractive thing to look at."

Larson has cared for his share of orchids over the years.

"I've had as many as 150 or 160 orchids," Larson said. "Some of them, I've had for five years and some I've had several months. There's always three or four blooming in the store."

Larson's fascination with the flower began after his father's death five years ago. Larson was given some orchids as condolences, and he decided to dedicate the flowers to his late father.

Eventually, he began growing his own orchids, and through some trial and error, he found success in cultivating the plant. He started bringing orchids to work and placing them on shelves near the store's entrance.

Charles Wilson, show chair of the Memphis Orchid Society, said the flower is among the most elite in the plant world.

"Orchids are the Cadillac of flowers," Wilson said. "They come in all colors, shapes and sizes."

Orchids have a reputation for being hard to grow and maintain. Wilson opposes the myth and said it depends on the flower in particular.

"Orchids are no different than any other flower," he said. "Any flower you're growing has its own requirements. You just have to know what the requirements are to grow them."

Larson said although he's often called the Orchid Man, he's still "a beginner hobbyist."

"I'm probably above average when it comes to growing orchids, but I've killed my share," he said.

Placing the orchids in the store also has helped Larson build a better relationship with some of his customers.

"People always come in and want to know how the orchids are doing," Larson said. "They want to know if any have bloomed. I'm able to engage with customers on a different level than I do when I'm making a normal sale."

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